Recently I used BBSoftware’s FlashBack Pro 2.6.6 to record two series of tutorial videos for ShowMeDo on OpenOffice Base and Impress (see some details on the series at ProCasts). You can see one of the resulting videos at the end of this article.
Here I’ll share some of the highs and lows of using FlashBack. Previously I’ve used the higher-priced Camtasia Studio 6 for other ShowMeDo series, the editing power was required so I could create polished videos for ShowMeDo’s payming-member Club. I wanted to try FlashBack Pro as it is less than half the price of Camtasia Studio and it offers a similar set of features.
The ecording process is similar to Camtasia’s and just as easy. By default it wants to record full-screen but you can define a window or custom area. The recordings always looked smooth and I’m happy with the results – no missed frames or glitches.
I recorded up to 15 minutes of footage per video before editing down to 3-8 minutes for each production and I noticed no problems with audio/video synchronisation (which afflicts e.g. CamStudio).
The software states that it has three different recording modes (though I only used the default). It also has useful options to clear your desktop of icons during recording, set your desktop to a plain wallpaper and to disable window animations. These things can all make recording smoother and clearer.
It took me 30 minutes to learn the interface, the learning curve was pretty shallow given that my recent experience has been with Camtasia. The editor in Pro makes it easy to cut and move segments of the video, apply zooms and add on-screen annotations.
I wasn’t entirely happy with the zoomed results (see below) but they do the job just fine.
FlashBack doesn’t have a built-in title slide generator so either you have to make a full-screen text box or import a title slide that you produce elsewhere (that’s what I did).
FlashBack provides various export options, I used H.264 (MP4) at 800×600 which works nicely for ShowMeDo. The export process was very smooth and it felt faster than Camtasia Studio’s exporting.
The timeline was easy to navigate. I did miss the ability to zoom in and out of the timeline (e.g. to see all the production on screen at once) but possibly I missed something in the editor that would let me do this.
I was a touch annoyed to discover that ‘Ctrl X’ isn’t bound to ‘cut’ as it is in most Windows applications, instead it did something else. I had to keep remembering to delete a selected section rather than try to cut it away.
Possible problem – zooming not as smooth as Camtasia’s zoom?
I think that the zoom feature in FlashBack isn’t as sophisticated as the one in Camtasia Studio, the zoomed results never looked quite as sharp as equivalent zooms in other OpenOffice recordings I made using Camtasia Studio.
You can see for yourself here – take a look at the Base Intro video (FlashBack Pro) and the Calc Install video (Camtasia Studio 6). For Base, jump to 0:10 and 0:30 and you’ll see that the text is a bit lumpy – as if the image was just expanded rather than having an interpolated zoom applied. For Calc jump to 1:00 and you’ll see lots of text in a zoom with no artefacts.
I’ll discuss this with BBSoftware and see if they can shed any light on the results.
Missing feature – no automatic de-noiser:
One feature I missed was the lack of an automatic de-noise routine to take background hum out of the audio recording. Camtasia Studio provides a routine that works automatically (though not brilliantly) and manually (which works fine with a bit of fiddling).
The lack of a de-noiser means I had to export each audio track, import it into Audacity, de-noise the audio (as discussed here) and import the cleaned track back into FlashBack. This process took about 15 minutes per recording. I’ll cover this process in the Handbook.
Overall I found FlashBack to be a solid and useful screencast recorder and editor. If your budget is constrained then this is probably the best choice for you, you also get a 30 day free trial to test it out. If you want integrated titling and de-noising then Camtasia Studio might still be a better choice (but it does cost a lot more).
On occasion I’d forget to press the ‘Apply Effects’ button which applies the zooms, I’d only discover the lack of zooms when watching the exported video and then I’d have to repeat the process. Perhaps the workflow could be improved with a reminder to the user as they go to export if their effects won’t be applied?
This is the Base Intro video that I produced for ShowMeDo, I include it here so you can see what a FlashBack production might look like:
Addition: Jonathan Camp has reminded me that one of BBFlashBack’s strengths is that the filesizes are tiny compared to other screencast recorders.
To improve your screencasting knowledge you must read The Screencasting Handbook. The author (Ian Ozsvald) also blogs.
Tags: 15 Minutes, 30 Minutes, Audacity, Bbflashback, Camtasia, Export Options, Flashback, Glitches, H 264, Highs And Lows, Interface, Job, Learning Curve, Member Club, Modes, Screen Recording Software, Screencasting, Segments, Software States, Studio 6, Synchronisation, Title Slide, Wallpaper, Xxx